RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - The Senior Associate Athletic Director who is also part of a VCU sexual orientation discrimination case tells CBS-6 that this is the first time in her 31 years at Virginia Commonwealth University that she felt anything less than total acceptance at a school that, she says, thrives on diversity.
“I’ve always felt part of the quote-unquote team – and a valued one,” said Pat Stauffer, a lesbian who has brought her partner to university functions.
VCU’s new Athletic Director, Ed McLaughlin, took her title of Senior Woman Administrator and gave it and the associated duties to Sophia Hoirt-Wright, the department’s Associate Athletic Director for Academic Support who has worked for the department for 10 years.
This Senior Woman Administrator is a position that is mandated by the NCAA to promote women’s interests in sports and related decision-making at the nation’s colleges.
Technically, this is not a demotion for Stauffer, since she keeps her current salary and position as Associate AD.
Then, the new Athletic Director decided he wasn’t renewing the contract of women’s volleyball coach James Finley, who had a winning record over the past nine years. Finley believes the new AD got rid of him because he’s openly gay, with his husband listed on his VCU Rams bio page.
But NCAA records indicate Finley wasn’t as successful in terms of enhancing the academic performance of his team until this past year.
The discrimination complaints are being investigated by VCU.
Stauffer, like Finley, says this kind of treatment is completely out of step with their previous experiences at VCU, where diversity is part of the school’s foundation and success.
“Everyone can find their niche, even back in the ‘80s,” Stauffer said. “I’d use that in recruiting. We’d get kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds . . . it’s what made VCU extremely attractive to so many people.”
She said she has talked with several members of the group that investigating the discrimination complaint. “It’s been exhaustive,” she said.
VCU’s president, Michael Rao, has placed great emphasis on the Ram’s Athletics Deparment to help its players also excel in the classroom.
That, reportedly, is part of why Coach Finley’s contract wasn’t renewed; why McLaughlin wanted to move the team “in a new direction.”
While Finley’s win record was good, his team’s academic success wasn’t until the 2011-2012 year.
For the past seven years, his team’s collective Academic Progress Rate – formulated and monitored by the NCAA - was 930. That’s way below the national average of 980 for women’s volleyball teams and the score for VCU’s women’s basketball team (976). A team that falls below 925 faces NCAA sanctions against the team.
Former VCU AD Norwood Teague asked Coach Finley to improve their APR, and the team responded, scoring a perfect 1,000 in 2011-2012. Finley said they were on track to repeat this year.
While Finley and Stauffer are the only ones on the previous athletics staff whose status has changed so far under the new AD, several people left with the old athletic director. McLaughlin has added five new staff members.
Stauffer said she trusts VCU’s leadership and those involved in this investigation. She believes they’ll get to bottom of the situation and do the right thing.
“At this point, I’ll do my job the best I can,” she said, “and go Rams!”